—After five years in development and
construction, ESPN threw open the doors of its new Digital Center 2 to
journalists recently, unveiling what the network believes to be the media
production center of the future.
new DC-2 facility occupies more than 194,000 feet and is across from DC-1
The new facility, located across from DC-1, which opened in 2004,
has a footprint of more than 194,000 square feet with a fiber-based
infrastructure that is format-agnostic and “future-proof,”
in the words of ESPN execs. There are six new production control rooms, four
audio control rooms and 16 edit suites.
“The group working on DC-2 was given a simple assignment,”
said Jodi Markley, senior vice president of operations for ESPN.
“Design and build technology that hadn’t been built yet,
create studio environments with unlimited capabilities for content creation,
make it a very comfortable place for our employees to work, and make it green.
This facility far exceeds that original assignment. In fact, DC-2 is the most
technically sophisticated media facility in the United States.”
The facility also represents a coming of age of sorts for
ESPN’s signature program, “Sports Center.” The
iconic sports program, which used to broadcast live at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.
daily, is now aired live 18 hours a day, growing into a franchise that requires
massive amounts of content and production capabilities. Inside DC-2 are five
studios with a combined space of 25,000 square feet.
“In comparison, we have nine studios on campus for a
combined footprint of 29,000 square feet, so we’re almost doubling in
size,” Markley said.
X, the new home to ESPN's Sports Center
The new Sports Center studio, which goes live later in June, occupies almost
10,000 square feet and the NFL Studio, which will launch in September, is 9,000
square feet. Studio X, where Sports Center is located, is crammed with the
latest in digital technology, including a total of 114 monitors, (compared to
the current studio, which has 15). There’s two touchscreens, a floor
video screen and two large vertical monitors, nicknamed the
“Verts,” one of which can move forward and track along the
floor while playing high-res video and graphics.
A multidimensional monitor wall features 56 individual monitors that play a
variety of graphics and images. The monitors are all in different sizes,
ranging in distance of 1 foot to three feet from each other and will provide a
3D-like graphics image for the viewer.
“Whatever content is on the monitor, it’s actually rooted
in 3D space,” said Marina Escobar, senior director, creative
technology atESPN. “It can move back, it can move forward, it can
break the edges of the monitor. What this means to the home viewer is that if
something is coming out of the monitor, meaning it’s at a different
space, it can actually look like it’s coming at you. We don’t
know exactly how we’re going to use it but we definitely know that
it’s very different than anything we’ve done and no one
else is doing it.”
X features a wall with 56 LCD monitors that move back and forth, giving a 3D effect.
While the current Sports Center studio includes 13 cameras, there will be 40
cameras in DC-2. One such camera in Studio X is the JITA cam, also known as a
“jib in the air.” Positioned on a first of its kind circular
track 20 feet in diameter, the camera is attached to a nine foot arm that hands
from the track. The camera can swoop as low as five feet from the ground and up
to 22 feet in the air, providing a 360-degree view of the studio.
Graphics—especially the kind that illustrate statistics, always
important in sports news and information—will be greatly improved in
the new Sports Center set, with an emphasis on bolder colors and simpler
presentation. “Graphics will be bolder, more colorful but with less
information, said Craig Bengtson, vice president and director of news for ESPN,
adding that the approach will make them easier to read.
“We’re using the displays on the set to give us
information that we had previously put on the screen covering everybody
up,” added Stephanie Gjorven, senior director of graphics and
technology for ESPN. “So we’re able to keep our anchors on
TV in a more immersive environment.”
To improve the graphics workflow, ESPN worked with Vizrt to develop the
“Octoviz,” a device that improves graphics creation and
expands its capabilities. The Octoviz has one output, and with eight Octovizes,
this gives ESPN 56 channels of output.
strong>HEART OF THE FACILITY
A common theme throughout the facility is the goal of making it
“future-proof” and with 4K on the horizon, ESPN’s
routing facility is at the heart of achieving such a goal. Consider this: the
network’s first broadcast center housed 600 tape machines, DC-1
brought that total down to 44 but nary a single tape machine is to be found in
DC-2, bringing the new facility into an entirely file-based workflow.
Pannaman, senior director of technology at ESPN (L) and Mitch Rymanowski, vice
president of engineering
This file-based production scenario requires some hefty routing capabilities
and the network, which is a long-time Evertz customer, deployed two Evertz EXE
fiber-optic routers for the new facility. The EXE is a versatile platform with
a 46 Tbps data plane, 6,320 Gbps control plane, and modular line card
architecture. And while a typical baseband router can handle about a couple
thousand signals at a time, ESPN’s new routing setup allows the
network to handle up to 60,000 signals simultaneously over nearly 1,100 miles
of fiber optic cable installed in the facility.
ESPN’s engineers are excited about moving from a mostly
baseband routing scheme to fiber.
“If we just went baseband [in DC-2], we would need a
2,304-squared router, so we decided it was time [to go fiber], said Jon
Pannaman, senior director of technology at ESPN. “If we wanted to do
1080p, and there’s a lot of talk about 4K, we just didn’t
want to be tied to one signal bit rate.”
The Ethernet portion of the combined baseband/IP routing setup uses JPEG2000
compression, which was selected because of its minimal latency and the ability
“One EXE here will actually route the entire [Bristol] campus six
times at 1080p and just under two times at 4K so that’s the kind of
horsepower that’s there,” said Pannaman.
ESPN’s network has been upgraded to the point now that it
has enough speed to download the entire text of the Library of Congress 169
times per day and the network processes 45 petabytes per day, twice the amount
of Google’s daily workload. The original plan for DC-2 was to take in
at least twice the number of feeds (than DC-1) to start and to go up to four
times within the next year and go on from there, according to Kevin Stolworthy,
senior vice president, content and information technology.
Environmental concerns were also on the minds of DC-2 designers and
Markley noted that the building includes LED studio lighting that will save
almost a million kilowatts a year, as well as a roof with a highly reflective
membrane that could save enough power to power almost 3,000 homes and a
rainwater capture system that takes rain and groundwater and uses it in the
restrooms. Because of these modifications, ESPN has applied for LEED (Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design) certification according to Markley.
Much of the planning and new technology that went into DC-2 was
based on close consultation with the network’s employees and ESPN
President John Skipper highlighted the work of Chuck Pagano, the
network’s CTO, who played a key role in designing the new facility.
Pagano, who started with ESPN before it even began broadcasting in 1979, will
be retiring in June.
“Chuck has been the foundation and the heart and soul of
this company,” Skipper said. “There’s been no
more important person in the history of cable television relative to how it
looks, feels, is consumed now than Chuck. Everything that has happened
technologically at this company, Chuck has been a part of.”